"Sweet forgiveness brought new blessings to my soul
Sweet forgiveness for my God has made me whole
He has lifted all my burdens, made my life a blessed thing
He's the reason that I'm living, He's the reason that I sing."
— Excerpt from "Sweet Forgiveness," lyrics and music by Jackie Davis
"I still believe in the power of forgiveness; I believe in the power of redemption. Today I manned up and tried to accept responsibility for the error of my ways, and I still believe in the resurrection." These are the words of former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. after being sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for campaign finance fraud. He's the son of civil rights activist Jesse Jackson Sr. and Jacqueline Jackson. Jackson Jr. served eight terms in Congress, from 1995 to 2012, until resigning in disgrace.
I recently watched an interview by Gail King of CBS, speaking to Jesse Jackson Jr. and his mother. "Loving You, Thinking of You, Don't Forget to Pray" is Jacqueline Jackson's new book, sharing some of the letters she wrote to her son every day while he suffered the consequences of bad choices. According to Jackson Jr., he was "embarrassed, humiliated, catatonic and ashamed," felt that he had brought shame and disgrace upon his whole family and wanted to be "forgotten" while in prison.
His mother, however, was determined not to let that happen. While serving his sentence, Jackson received a letter from his mother every day at mail call. According to Jacqueline, she wanted to let her son know that "your circumstances do not define your character" and that he would emerge a "better person" as a result of making it through the experience. She went on to say "all parents have high expectations for their children. You don't give birth to trash."
While receiving his mother's letters, Jackson noticed that most of the other prisoners never received cards or letters at mail call. They had been forgotten. He began to share her letters with the other prisoners around him, to encourage their hearts as well. There is power, life and healing in words sent or spoken to those who need them. I was touched by how the unconditional love and sweet forgiveness of this mother went on to bless her son and those around him.
In the United States, more than 70 percent of those released from incarceration return. Jacqueline Jackson's book is an effort to put an end to that high percentage. It's also a cry to address the need for change in a system that should be a place where justice serves to repair and make people whole — not simply a place to raise up repeat offenders.
Through the years, I have sung in prisons and at fundraisers for prison ministries, and I confess that this interview struck a chord in my heart. How many forgotten prisoners are out there, destined to return after their release?
Jesus said, "When you did it for the least of these my brothers, you did it unto me." I implore each of us to prayerfully seek what we can do to make a difference in the lives of those who may have been "forgotten" while serving out the consequences of poor decisions. In so doing, we might just share the sweet forgiveness that helps change lives.
Jackie Davis is an inspirational vocalist, musician and speaker with over 20 years of television broadcast experience. Her column is published every other Friday in the US&J.